Tefillin, also known as phylacteries, are passages from the Torah written on parchments and placed in leather battim (receptacles or “houses”), with leather straps attached. These straps are used to bind the battim on the arm and head.
A Bond Between You and the Torah
The source of the commandment of tefillin appears in the passage of Shema Yisrael: “You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day….Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a sign on your forehead” (Deuteronomy 6:5-8). To “bind” Torah to oneself is a metaphor for absorbing it and identifying with it completely. In this mitzvah we are asked to act out this metaphor in real time.
The battim are made from the skin of an animal permitted to be eaten, hinting that we have to absorb the message of tefillin into our systems. They must be perfectly square, representing human creative ability. (Squares and rectangles are never found in the non-human organic world.) They must have a base (the ma’avarta), just as our commitment to G-d must be firmly based on a rational appreciation of the goals of Torah.
A Bond Between You and Your Heritage
Tefillin symbolize the eternal bond between the Jewish people and G-d and attest that the person who lays them is connected to his Jewish heritage, as stated in one of the passages contained inside: “And this shall serve you as a sign on your arm and as a reminder on your forehead” (Exodus 13:9).
The manner in which tefillin are placed on the head and arm is highly symbolic. The head represents intellect and logic. The Jew who lays tefillin on his head is declaring that his thoughts are linked to Jewish tradition, and that he subordinates his mind to the Lord and the Torah. The arm stands for power and action, thus by placing tefillin on his arm a Jew declares he is adhering to Jewish practice throughout the generations.
Ben’s Tallit Shop offers affordable Tefillin Peshutim and Tefillin Dakkot. Readers are invited to visit our tefillin page for information.